Don’t Write Alone | Interviews

Elissa Bassist Gave Her Book Everything She Had

In this interview, Elissa Bassist discusses her memoir “Hysterical,” keeping her humor sharp, and the endurance test of writing a book.




Christina Berke: The medical mystery woven through reads almost like a feminist detective thriller. Along the way, we learn upsetting facts about the medical industry that routinely risks women’s health: 70 percent of patients with medically unexplained symptoms are women; depression is more prevalent in women; most medications aren’t tested on women or on mensturating bodies; many doctors aren’t taught about menopause. How did you write about this without losing your mind?

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CB: The majority of your sources and quotes come from women and people of color. Was this a deliberate effort to give voice to those who are typically left out of the narrative? Was it more challenging to find non-cis, non-white, and non-heteronormative sources?

CB: is very funny, and in just the right places, like turning the standard medical questionnaire into jokes: “Do you sleep too much or too little? Are you exhausted from giving your all, yourself completely, to the men of the world?” You also teach comedy writing and edit the Funny Women column for , which must have informed the balance of humor and tragedy throughout the book. What keeps your humor writing sharp?

CB: What techniques helped you the most when writing ?


CB: How did you balance research, memoir, and criticism?

CB: In the chapter “STFU,” you write about being in an MFA program and getting harmful feedback. What do you think are the pros and cons of writing programs?

CB: Many writers are also teachers, and I remember a writer once cringing when a male student quoted her writing about her clitoris. You’ve taught at places like The New School, Catapult, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and 92NY. Any awkward and uncomfortable moments with your students regarding your writing, or does teaching censor your writing at all?

CB: Cheryl Strayed told you to “write like a motherfucker.” What specific advice did she give you on writing ?